Ernst Rasmussen and I returned from the tournament in the blizzard of ’06! I was coming hot off the 4 of 6 score and tie for fourth at the Western States Open and entered this tournament with high hopes. I played well the first day, winning the first two of the six games. Saturday morning I was up and ready for a tough match. I knew whomever I would be facing will have also won two games and this match would be critical to advance to board one. These “Swiss System” tournaments get tougher as they progress but I really felt physically and mentally up to the challenge.
My opponent, Frank, was already sitting at the board, behind the white pieces. He was very serious, all business. I sat down, extended my hand and got a hesitant handshake, absolutely penetrating stare, and no smile.
The game had already begun, without a piece being moved. Dark eyes bore into me and caused me to start fumbling with the clock and adjusting my pieces among other attempts to conceal the uneasiness, not to mention the absolute cold sweat I had fallen into.
Frank brought me out of it with the confident push of his “d” pawn two squares and a slap to the clock. Whack! Whack! Whack! The moves were coming fast and furious as we were obviously making moves we had played hundreds of times before. We entered the Bogo-Indian Defense and within minutes arrived in fresh territory.
I happen to like the Bogo-Indian and enjoy playing an attacking game from blacks’ queenside, aiming at whites’ kingside castled position. I also welcome the wild games which develop following blacks’ castling to the opposite side of the board, inviting a frontal assault from whites’ pawns and pieces.
Now Frank went into a deep think. It always makes me feel good when I cause the opponent to pause. I hope that I have posed difficult problems for the adversary and it may well be the point where a mistake is made. Minutes passed, and then came another push of that “d” pawn to the fifth rank. I looked at that pawn for a long time. I went into a sort of trance, staring at it, mesmerized by it. Gradually I could feel that tingle of excitement just beginning to surge through my whole being. Yes, my opponent had made a mistake. All of a sudden there was some extremely wonderful hippity hopping available to that d7 horse of mine. With black on the move, that wonderful knight came to life, jumping first to c5 and then most beautifully to b3 where it forked whites’ Queen and Rook. On move fifteen I snapped off that Rook, winning the exchange of Knight for Rook. I saw myself coasting to an easy win and the move onto the coveted board one. Top of the heap. The person to beat! Ah, to bask in victory!
Now then, in chess, as in life, one must be careful to not underestimate the competition’s resources, especially when one has an obvious advantage. Frank seemed unfazed by my brilliant play and began pressing his pawns and pieces into my position. At first glance all seemed well with the black pieces. Immediate threats by white were parried and exchanges took place. When the dust settled however, there was a white pawn dangerously close to my King, and Franks’ Queen and remaining Rook were threatening checkmate. I poured over the position before me, examining every nuance starting with the most ridiculous looking moves to those which seemed most logical. It did not take too long to understand the hopelessness, the sheer disaster before me. Where did I go wrong? How could I misplay this winning game? My head was swimming when I looked up and saw the doublewide grin which had replaced Frank’s poker face.
I look back down at the position, hoping to find that miraculous move that will allow me to play on, as well as give me time to choke back and conceal the anger at myself for being so stupid! When finally the range of emotion had subsided, I look back up at the grinning face and take the hand that is offered. I got a firm, confident handshake as I tipped over my King.
I could only wish that 50 years ago I played chess like Frank. I have a feeling the chess world may be hearing a lot more someday from this young sixth grader!
Frank’s dad rushed up and gave his son a congratulatory pat on the back, then shook my hand vigorously, thanking me for playing his son. I learned that Frank has only been playing for a year and a half and that no…his dad doesn’t play him any more!
I lost my next two games after this, maybe my confidence was shaken. Ernst and I decided to make tracks for PT, since the snow was really coming down. As we we’re leaving the tournament Frank’s dad gave a hearty wave and said his son had a perfect five of five score going into the last round.
He was proud of that young lad, and by golly, I was too!
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